The challenge for historical novelists: sorting out common-law wives, mistresses, courtisans & shadow queens

The challenge for historical novelists: sorting out common-law wives, mistresses, courtisans & shadow queens

Given the recent revelations about French President François Hollande’s personal life, I think future writers of historical fiction are fortunate. They will have so many details to go on, from photos of President Hollande arriving for a rendezvous on a scooter to tweets sent by the former First Lady, his live-in mistress Valerie Trierweiler.

Hollane etc.

In writing biographical historical fiction that involves a public figure, it’s often difficult to discover how an intimate relationship evolves.

While writing my newest novel, THE SHADOW QUEEN, it was easy enough to see how lovers met, but a little more difficult to sort out how, exactly, a more intimate relationship came about—for these lovers were all “in the family,” so to speak:

Athénaïs, Madame de Montespan (Mistress 2) was the good friend of Louise de la Vallière (Mistress 1)—or so Louise thought.

Madame de Maintenon (Mistress 3) worked for Athénaïs (Mistress 2), as governess of her children by the King.

Claudette des Oeillets—heroine of THE SHADOW QUEEN who has a child by the King (rather a Mistress 3.5)—also worked for Athénaïs (Mistress 3) as her lady’s maid, and one has to presume that this arrangement was with Athénaïs’s approval.

The Hollande family tree, however, will be as difficult for future historical novelists to sort out as in days of old, and in this respect I don’t envy them in the least. Ms Ségolène Royal, Hollande’s former common-law wife, is the unmarried mother of his four children. Ms Trierweiler, his second partner, has three children by her second husband. That’s a family-menage of seven children—way too many to manage in a scene.

Film actress Julie Gayet, the newest Other Woman, has two children by her first husband, but it’s up for grabs whether or not she will be moving into the Élysée Palace, the official residence of the President of the French Republic. If she does, the international Press, you can be sure, will be watching.

There is a general perception that it is not uncommon for French leaders to have a mistress. Is this, however, fair? In the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, having a mistress was almost a requirement for a French, English, Spanish or German king. Understandably, in my view, given that royalty had to marry for political reasons, not love.


Louis XIV, the Sun King, was a rather monogamous adulterer: he usually had only one mistress at a time. His cousin Charles II of England, however, had several mistresses at once. (The most famous was actress Nell Gwynn, who is reported to have once sabotaged a rival by putting laxatives in her food before her rendezvous with the King.)

In modern history, Edward VIII abdicated in 1936 in order to be with his mistress, the divorcee Wallis Simpson. Prince Charles married his long-term mistress Camilla Parker Bowles. And then, of course, we have President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

In one respect, I venture to say that the French do take the cake.  A number of French shadow queens were significantly powerful women.

Gabrielle d’Estrees, the Catholic mistress of Protestant Henri IV, helped end France’s religious wars.

King Henri II’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers, imposed taxes, appointed ministers and made laws.

And, lest you think that the role of shadow queen is strictly sexual, consider Madame de Pompadour, who was King Louis XV’s mistress for almost two decades, despite—I’ve read—being unable to have intercourse. Instead, she provided the King with young women to sleep with.

I admire the French public for considering it none of the press’s business what their leaders do in their personal life … which makes me feel just a little trashy for even mentioning it all here. But then, I’m just thinking ahead, academically speaking. ;-)

Have you ever noticed how the word “courtesan” has the word “court” in it? From Wikipedia:

“In Renaissance usage, the Italian word cortigiana, feminine of cortigiano (“courtier”) came to refer to “the ruler’s mistress”, and then to a well-educated and independent woman of loose morals, essentially a trained artisan of dance and singing, especially one associated with wealthy, powerful, or upper-class men who provided luxuries and status in exchange for companionship.”


Publication day!

Publication day!

A friend just emailed: Is it as exciting as the first time? 

Although there is nothing quite like the first time, I woke up this morning and thought, with a big grin, PUB DAY!


It’s such a miraculous thing!

I’m still in Mexico, so I can’t see it in bookstores in Canada and the U.S. If you see it, send me a photo (sgulland AT sandragulland DOT com) and I’ll post it here.

Here is the link to the newsletter I sent out yesterday:

I’ve emailed the winner of THE SHADOW QUEEN (always fun).

Reviews—even brief ones—on Goodreads, or are so very much appreciated now. If you’re not ready to review, give a “thumbs up” to a review you like.


And, as well, all that usual Social Media stuff: thumbs up, likes, re-tweets and tweets! It’s a noisy type of day.

But most of all, I hope you buy THE SHADOW QUEEN, or get it out of the library, or borrow it from a friend. In short: I hope you read it. And if you love Claudette and her eccentric tribe, chat it up. Word-of-mouth is still the most powerful promotion there is.

Curtain about to go up on The Shadow Queen

Curtain about to go up on The Shadow Queen

Perhaps one of the most heartening things for an author is when one’s work is understood. This review (see the link in @leaflette’s Tweet below) brought tears to my eyes.

I especially liked this from Leeanna’s review:

THE SHADOW QUEEN had just the right amount of historical detail to for me to perfectly imagine Claudette’s world, from the theatre to court. I’ve never had an interest in French plays or the history of them, but now I do, thanks to reading this book. Claudette’s parents are both actors, and so the beginning “acts” of the book take place in the theatre world. It was pretty cool to find out how plays were staged back then. Also, when Claudette moves to court, to be Athénaïs’ maid and companion, it was easy to draw allusions between both false worlds.

Thank you so much, Leeanna, whoever and wherever you are.

From the This ‘n That Department:

Have you noticed my new website design? I am very pleased.

Why I’ve been silent: so much to do. I am 4 days from pub date (OMG) and 6 days from heading north to Canada. (Yikes!)

My first event will be at the North Shore Writers Festival on Saturday, April 12, 2:30-3:30pm: Enlivening the Past, historical fiction writers’ panel featuring authors Sandra Gulland, Daniel Kalla, Mary Novikand Roberta Rich is moderated by Jen Sookfong Lee. I am stoked to be seeing Roberta again, and am very much looking forward to meeting Daniel, Jen, and—especially, Mary, who I’ve long admired from afar.

If you haven’t signed up for my newsletter, be sure to do so now. ( With every newsletter, a subscriber wins a book. (I’m loving doing this.)

I was a bit over the moon that Flipboard mentioned my magazine in a Tweet:

The subscription has increased by over 500 already.

And last, another Tweet I loved:

How to be published: everything you need to know, plus a really great surprise

How to be published: everything you need to know, plus a really great surprise

The HarperCollins Canada 2014 catalogue!

HC catalogue

The main reason for this post is to share a great blog post on writing and publishing.

“25 steps to being a traditionally published author: Lazy Bastard Edition”—a post by Delilah S. Dawson—is an excellent overview of the writing and publishing process, as good an overview as I’ve ever read. I just sent the link to four friends who are working on novels. (Heh. By mistake I  typed “wording” on novels.)

To give you the funny-but-hard-hitting sense of it, Step #1 is: If you’re actually lazy, GTFO. 


On the home front:

THE SHADOW QUEEN has a pub. date: April 8, 2014. I’ve sent off the corrected 1st Pass pages and I’ve only the Acknowledgements and the very last sentences of the novel to tweak. I’ve a storage box on my office floor where everything to do with The Shadow goes now, labelled “archival.” (I.e. my crowded basement.)

No more surprises, right?

Wrong! Yesterday evening, I got this Tweet:

I was speechless! A portrait of my Claude? I didn’t think one existed. (I Googled for it when I began my research and came up with nothing.)

Claude portrait

Look familiar?

Shadow Queen


I’ve emailed Doubleday to find out if they used the portrait as a basis for the cover.

I was pleased when I first saw the cover because the woman looked like how I’d imagined Claude to look. (Eyebrows!)

And now: well! To find out that it looks like the real Claude: I’m blown away.

Late breaking news (two days later): my editor at Doubleday, Melissa Danaczko, checked: the cover designer had never seen a portrait of Claude, much less this one.

Is that spooky-amazing or what?!

On author questionnaires, first pages, daily word count for my YA about Hortense, and a wonderful granddaughter, all at once

On author questionnaires, first pages, daily word count for my YA about Hortense, and a wonderful granddaughter, all at once

I’m working on the Author Questionnaire for Doubleday’s publication of The Shadow Queen, and that requires quite a bit of time mucking about in my promotional and publication history.

Any day now, I will see the first pass on the book cover: I’m excited. I’m already madly in love with the interior design.

Meanwhile, I’m cranking up the word count on the Young Adult novel about Hortense, going slowly at first. We will have the pleasure of our now 1-year-old granddaughter Kiki, our daughter Carrie and her mate Bruce this long weekend, so I’m only aiming for 50 words a day. Dipping a toe in—that’s all—but it’s important to do it every day. This morning I aimed for 50 and chalked up over 200. I’m very much enjoying exploring this youthful story.SaveSave